Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Authoritarian Britain

Research by Oxford University academics suggests Britain needs to cut back on its drinking as well as fast food

The traditional January detox when Britons stop drinking and start dieting could last all year under new government health guidelines.

Public Health England (PHE) has told fast-food chains and supermarket ready-meal makers to “calorie cap” their foods, cutting down lunches and dinners to 600 calories and breakfast to 400.

The plan, to put the whole of the UK on a diet, is due out in March.

To add to the agony, it coincides with research showing that the UK’s alcohol rules are too lax, with even drinking one pint or glass of wine a day poisoning the brain and raising the risk of dementia.

Alison Tedstone, PHE’s chief nutritionist, told food bosses that 27% of UK adults are obese, 36% more were overweight


What a lot of excreta! 1600 calories is a weight-loss diet so this is all hot air. There is unlikely to be any serious enforcement of this or the government will be out on its ear -- JR

The myth of toxic masculinity

Stop pathologising men – they’re doing just fine

In these strange political times, it’s very fashionable to trash men. ‘Toxic masculinity’ has become the prefabricated phrase of choice bolted on to every problem involving men. Such lazy use of language would have George Orwell turning in his grave.

The toxic masculinity argument demands that men need to be fixed, re-educated and reprogrammed. This baseless assumption, founded on nonsense psychologism, is deeply insulting. What would happen if another identity group were told that they were flawed and lacking, and must be re-educated? We’re in danger of returning to the days when pathologising certain groups was regarded as normal – when homosexuality was treated and accepted as a mental illness, of women were labelled hysterics.

The discussion of toxic masculinity doesn’t really have much interest in helping men, either. It was interesting that last year’s International Men’s Day came and went without much fuss, considering it was sandwiched by two male suicides. The first was Carl Sargeant, a Labour Party MP who killed himself after being accused of non-criminal sexual harassment (Sargeant died not knowing his accuser or the allegations against him). The second suicide was a paid Labour Party employee. No doubt the relative silence about these two suicides is an attempt to downplay the Kafkaesque witch-hunt of men following the #MeToo campaign. Many mental-health charities concerned with male suicide also failed to mention these tragic events.

This narrative of toxic or flawed men does not represent what I encounter in the context of the psychoanalytic clinic. Prefabricated phrases like ‘men are emotionally illiterate’, ‘men cannot cry’ and ‘men have to own their vulnerability’ are not something I recognise in my psychoanalytic work. Many women can find great difficulty in opening up, as can men. More importantly, many find that being stoic in confrontation with mental distress can be vital for coping with the vicissitudes of life.

Peoples’ struggles and subjectivities are ultimately heterogeneous – so very heterogeneous that one cannot predict how a man or a woman coming to psychoanalysis will be, and how they will react to ‘opening up’. It takes time and patience to get to know somebody and understand the (very singular) symptoms they struggle with. The kneejerk application and totalisation of a person with a homogenous theory like toxic masculinity removes the possibility of a unique and individual process of subjectification.

This simplification and stereotyping is a key factor of identity politics, especially within the more authoritarian left, which has a propensity to diagnose how other groups act as oppressors. (The classic example being that white males are supposedly racist and exude damaging toxic masculinity.) This becomes problematic when people who are supposedly being protected from such oppression don’t agree with the ideology. For example, not all women, trans or gay people want to be dictated to or spoken for. This reluctance to accept the popular idea of toxic masculinity is often met with accusations of being in denial or suffering from internalised misogyny. Rather than celebrating difference, the psychologism of toxic masculinity alienates the individual from their own subjectivity, negating his or her own ability to write their own narrative.

As Michel Foucault and Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi outlined, in highly controlling societies the perfect prison is one in which individuals police themselves. Toxic masculinity, and the reification of masculinity, has created a panoptic psychological regime to guard against what is considered to be Orwellian wrongthink. The norm is supporting Safe Spaces, PC culture and identity politics, and any criticism is immediately condemned as being caused by toxic masculinity. The psychoanalyst Roland Gori argues that people crave this ‘security’ of the norm, as it relieves them from the dizzying ‘groundlessness’ of heterogeneousness which resides outside the norm. In order to maintain our freedom and liberty, we have to reject the idea that security is found in conformity.

Let’s be honest. Pretty much the only identity group that it is considered acceptable to pathologise is men. Like the witch-hunts of old, men must admit to the sin of toxic masculinity, and be purged, or else face persecution. It is time to call out the narrative of toxic masculinity for what it really is – a toxic idea.


The British army’s latest ads spell the end of the warrior ethos

The British Army’s new advertising campaign unwittingly highlights the crisis of this institution. Its ads seem keen to present the army as a Safe Space, where people’s feelings and identities will always be affirmed and they will not be subjected to the kind of pressures normally associated with a military outfit. The message seems to be: ‘We’re no longer really an army, so sign up and have a nice, easy life.’

In line with today’s celebration of emotionalism, the recruitment campaign tells would-be soldiers it’s ‘okay to cry’; it’s cool to emote in public. Unlike older recruitment campaigns, this one downplays the physical and mental attributes that are usually associated with soldiering. Instead of emphasising excitement and adventure, it focuses on psychological validation and empathy. It all suggests that the army thinks emotional vulnerability will be the default characteristic of new recruits. So one of the feelgood ads shows a tearful soldier in a jungle opening a letter from a loved one; his mate affirms his emotions and offers him a cup of tea.

The flipside of this focus on the emotional is a self-conscious downplaying of the importance of physical fitness in those who join the army. One advert asks the question, ‘Do I have to be a superhero?’, and then implicitly answers with a firm ‘No’. It features a lad who confesses that he is physically unfit but who later manages to gain some strength, with the help of his mates. The campaign’s subliminal message – that it is okay to be soft – makes it look like an appeal to join the Brownies or the Cubs.

As it happens, no army ever expected new recruits to be ‘superheroes’. So why this keenness to reassure would-be soldiers that it’s fine for them to be regular lads and lasses? Because this is about distancing the army from its traditional association with the values of heroism, courage and valour. The emphasis of this strange public-relations exercise is on the ordinary and banal, not the extraordinary or brave.

The army has justified its campaign as a necessary response to its current recruitment crisis. It says its traditional recruitment pool of white men has diminished over the past 10 to 15 years, so it needs to reach out to wider sections of society. The army is portrayed as an all-inclusive institution where people can openly discuss their sexuality and practice their religion. One ad, titled ‘Keeping my Faith’, shows a Muslim soldier kneeling in prayer while his comrades turn down a crackling radio so that he can carry out his religious duties undisturbed.

Some have criticised the campaign for its one-dimensional focus on reassuring Muslim, gay or physically unfit recruits, claiming this panders to the fashionable ethos of diversity. But this overlooks the real issue at stake. The army should be open to people from all kinds of backgrounds. The real problem with this campaign is that it presents military life as a Safe Space where everyone can feel comfortable. And in doing so, it unwittingly lowers expectations of what it means to be a professional soldier. Instead of appealing to young people’s quest for adventure and their sense of idealism, courage and duty, the army is trying to replenish its numbers by appealing to those who might be put off by such a hardcore militaristic outlook or image.

The recruitment drive, which its creators refer to as the ‘Belonging Campaign’, makes no attempt to explain the actual purpose of an army. It avoids spelling out just what kind of people might be suitable for a life of professional soldiering. Anyone watching these ads could be forgiven for not knowing that being a soldier involves fighting against, and sometimes killing, the enemies of one’s country.

In one sense, the Belonging Campaign represents an important departure from previous public-relations initiatives by the army. Its implicit promotion of the Safe Space ethos and mawkish celebration of emotional vulnerability suggests the army has more or less given up on the values associated with the warrior ethos – at least publicly. But in another sense, the campaign can be seen as only the latest version of an effort to sell military life as little more than a sensible career choice for people looking to improve their skills and prospects. Over the past decade, recruitment material for the army has boasted that army life can equip people with skills and qualifications that can be easily transferred into civilian life. Such material always focuses on what recruits will get out of the army rather than on what is expected of the soldier him or herself.

For some time now, the army has tried to gain recruits by presenting itself as just another skills-and-training institution. It has downplayed military values and objectives. But now it has gone a step further. Now it explicitly distances itself from the values of a fighting force. It seems the only thing that distinguishes it from normal civilian institutions is that it expects its employees to wear a uniform and maintain a modicum of discipline.

This trend for turning the army into a borderline civilian institution speaks to a serious identity crisis. There is now very little cultural validation for the risky and sometimes dangerous actions soldiers often have to take. In recent decades the military has bought into the culture of risk-aversion that afflicts society more broadly. The ethos of safety has been institutionalised within the military. Army commanders have to draw up risk assessments for every aspect of soldiers’ training. Some have stopped testing soldiers to their limits lest they inadvertently contravene health-and-safety rules. General Sir Michael Rose, former head of the SAS, has spoken out about the destructive impact of risk-aversion on the morale of the military. He has denounced the ‘moral cowardice’ that has brought about what he calls a ‘most catastrophic collapse’ in the military ethos.

What the Belonging Campaign has failed to grasp is that people do not simply want to belong – they want to be part of something that is meaningful. People will join the army if they feel this institution has some purpose, and if its values inspire and move them. People are prepared to expose themselves to the risk of battle if they feel that something important is at stake, and that their contribution will actually mean something. Unless the army can provide recruits with values that inspire them, and a way of life that has real meaning, then the recruitment crisis will drag on.

The Belonging Campaign is looking in the wrong places with these ads. Young people who want to settle into a Safe Space and never be challenged or confronted are unlikely to join an institution known for placing people in combat zones. The only beneficiary of the Belonging Campaign is the public-relations outfit that was commissioned to produce it.


No government need take notice of Guardian readers and Twitter-provoked petitions

Online petitions don't represent the majority of the population

Rod Liddle

I once asked Michael Gove, when he had just been appointed Education Secretary, if he would mind awfully appointing me as chairman of Ofsted: I had one or two vigorous ideas, such as reversing the grades awarded to schools for ‘cultural diversity’ so that they more closely represented what the overwhelming majority of parents actually think. Michael smiled politely and walked away, which I took as a definite indication of assent. Frankly, I will never forgive the treachery. Gove handed out the job to someone who went native almost immediately, became subsumed by the Blob. Serves him right. I assume Gove, in a cowardly manner, was worried by the possible howl-round of appointing a chap who had once asked readers if they had ever, after a few pints, considered giving one to Harriet Harman. I had been trying to be nice, but there we are.

Michael was clearly terrified of the Twit-ter-storm, the maniacs on social media sites, the relentless fury of a couple of hundred thousand people, almost all of whom we pay for out of our taxes to carry out their fatuous jobs, if they have any, and who care for freedom of speech and freedom of conscience with the same fervour with which a Tower Hamlets imam cares about the rights of his local LGBTQI folk.

Toby Young got a little further than I did, as part of The Spectator’s drive to capture all the major offices of government — Taki in charge of immigration, Charles Moore personally strangling foxes at the Min of Ag and Jeremy Clarke running the MoD — but tendered his resignation when it became evident that it would be shortly tendered for him. The mob works. The mob thinks it is an expression of democracy — and in a sense it is, so long as nobody of importance pays any heed to its eternal, moronic fugue and its bedwetting tantrums.

The problem is that people who should know better, i.e., the government, do take it seriously. Perhaps it is because they are right-wingers: they see that 200,000 people have signed a petition against something and assume that they are just normal people, a bit like them. But they are not. They are the same 200,000 liberal-left wank-puffins who sign every fatuous petition got up by Change.org or 38 Degrees: they are magnificently arrogant in their presumption that because 0.3 per cent of the population have summoned up the ability to click a button, they must have their way.

The first thing, then, is for the government to reappraise the numbers issue. Maybe start taking a mild interest in petitions when they reach about the four million mark — about 6 per cent of the population, instead of promising House of Commons debates as soon as they reach the pitiful figure of 100,000, as is the case now. So, four million, minimum, otherwise ignore them totally. The government is out of date on the numbers, on what constitutes a genuine public feeling.

With Toby Young there was no popular feeling at all — it was just them again. The usual suspects. Take no notice of them, they count for nothing. Because otherwise nobody who is right of centre will ever be able to be appointed to anything. Every time they do, the puffins will begin their work. The fundamentalist wankpuffins will tap ‘Toby Young Twitter tits’ or ‘Rod Liddle Facebook give Harriet one’ into Google and rip everything out of context, stripped of nuance and regardless of whether it was uttered 25 years ago — and then the foot-soldier wankpuffins will swallow it whole and tap their little buttons on their laptops for Change.org. That’s how it works — a few judicious Googles and almost every-one in the country can be found bang to rights, can be shrieked at and told to resign.

The political right, in general, does not behave like this. It does not become beside itself with fury when someone who has views counter to their own is appointed to a post, which is all that happened in the case of Young. For the left, it is all that matters: if he disagrees with me, he must be vile and thus unsuitable.

Toby Young was appointed to a minor role on an obscure education quango because of his exceptional work with free schools. In the education sector there are almost no right-wingers appointed to anything. No visiting professors, or honorary professors. By contrast, the genuinely idiotic journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has been a visiting professor at three universities, despite having said that she wishes white men to be expunged from the face of the earth and that the white working class is ‘scum’, and having referred to people who voted Leave by the brilliant term ‘Brex-shitters’. But the right do not get inflamed in quite the same way.

Your history will always come back to haunt you, but only if you are on the right. If you are on the left, it won’t matter at all. Just hypothetically speaking, I think it is entirely possible that one could be appointed to a senior position within a left-wing party despite having demanded honours for IRA murderers, supported genocidal terrorist organisations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and proclaimed an affection for a totalitarian communist dictatorship in, say, Cuba which imprisons trade union leaders and persecutes homosexuals That’s just hypothetically speaking, mind; I can’t know for sure.

The problem is not the mob, no matter how fascistic and undemocratic its mindset might be. The puffins have every right to tap their little buttons, to scream and stamp their feet, to howl with anguish. The problem is solely the respect given to it. A Guardian editorial column is read by about 100,000 people, 0.1 per cent of the population. It does not matter. And nor does double that number signing a petition. It is time the right wised up to this and acquired from somewhere the semblance of a spine.


Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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